Posted by: atowhee | February 23, 2017


“Everybody has always underrated the Russians.  They keep their secrets alike from foe and friend.”                                          –Winston Churchill, 1942.

The Ancient Mariner would not have taken so well if it had been called The Old Sailor.”
Samuel Butler

Whether it be tweet or novel, propaganda or marriage proposal, what we say and how we say it (or write it) matters greatly.  I will be doing a good deal of talking this spring.  Next month I begin teaching a birding class here in McMinnville.  I will do my best to match words with images and explain what to look for in an image.  We birders all learned that from Roger Tory Peterson.  His brilliant field guide to birds wasn’t just revolutionary because it had good illustrations…he used pointer marks to draw attention to the crucial differentiating field marks for each species.

Then on April 22 I will give a workshop at the Terroir Creative Writing Festival.  That’s here in McMinnville and Chemeketa Community College.   I will talk about “Birds, Words, and What They Mean
We’ll discuss non-fiction writing— how to make the content more than mere lists and superficial descriptions, how to capture the feeling or tone of a location or season, and how to breathe life into your nature writing. We’ll discuss the unique, complex nature of individual creatures, plant and animal.”

I will be at the Pt. Reyes Bird Festival the following weekend in Marin  County, CA.  There I’ll lead one field trip and give a talk on the evolution of San Francisco’s natural history.  It’s April 28-30.

Then at the end of May I will do a talk and walk from Klamath Bird Observatory in Ashland.  The talk will be on the history of American Ornithology: Steller, Brewer, Cassin, Wilson, Anna and all those explorers and naturalists who first described our western birds. The field trip is up into the Cascades where we’ll look for Great Gray Owl, White-headed Woodpecker, nesting Sandhill Cranes. Talk is May 25, walk the next day May 26 (Fri).  If you are interested in this program (fees are tax deductible donation to KBO), email me at:


McMinnville Park & Rec Birding Class is on page 27 of the printed spring catalog or click this link for online registration.

Terroir Writing Festival.

Pt. Reyes Birding and Nature Festival.

Posted by: atowhee | February 22, 2017


So now we are seeing the folks who have the most to lose–moneywise–finally standing up to the right wing folks who want to remove federal control from vast stretches of western land.  Maybe turn the land over to ranchers or frackers or simply take it to say “f— you” to all conservation-loving liberals in the  big cities. Logging, wolf shooting and oil drilling are so much more conservative now than actual conservation, despite the shared root word.

A recreation industry show is moving out of Salt Lake City after two decades.A recreation industry show is moving out of Salt Lake City after two decades.

Posted by: atowhee | February 21, 2017


Feb. 21   Nora and I were at Joe Dancer Park after noon, and it was not raining, though it had been raining and more was coming in. One brief encounter with a bird curious about my pishing into a berry thicket.  Wow, pretty bird in many subtle ways:hansun-foximg_8182He’s got it all going, right?  The chevron-marks on the chest, the yellow lower mandible, the clear eye-ring, a bit of a crest because he’s pished off at me and the dog, those long toenails for digging the duff up, and even a water drop poised beneath his left foot to confirm that the outdoor humidity here is at 100.1%.  He out-foxed every other bird on the trail this afternoon.

For the first time I saw a brush rabbit at Dancer Park.  Got a photo.  Its binomial is Sylvilagus bachmani, named after Audubon’s good friend, Rev. John Bachman.  In fact Audubon’s two sons married Bachman’s two daughters.  Bachman helped Audubon find his first Bachman’s Warbler in South Carolina where the good reverend lived.  Bachman also wrote all the text for Audubon’s last work, on American mammals. Bachman was a world-reknowned mammal man in his day.brsh-rbbt

I have learned that the brush rabbit is found along the Pacific Coast from the Columbia River southward.  The species adheres to Allen’s Rule which means as you move south the habitat becomes dryer and the local brush rabbits have longer and longer ears.

The Red-breasted Sapsucker was again in the forest along the river about fifty yards west of the skateboard structure.  And that is also the area where the Anna’s Hummingbird is often seen on the tip of a bare landscape tree.  He was there today and a second male was on the far side of ball diamonds along the river after it has turned north.
First: the riverside hummer, then the one often near the skateboard course:anhu-riveranhu-west

Flickers were calling and Robins singing. The river was raging.  Everything was saturated from repeated rains.  Moss, lichens, bark and ferns were all wet sponges of varying capacity.  Even when there is no atmospheric rain, the forest precipitation continues from the dripping ends of plants.img_8199

There were a few small insects in flight.  A local insect expert tells me this: “they are most likely a fungus gnat that  lives in moist soil with high organic matter. The gnats are very small 1/16-1/8 inch and black.  They are often described as looking like small mosquitoes. They can be a problem in greenhouses living in the potting soil. Although they are usually minimally active in the cold weather, they can survive extreme cold.  It is most likely that the activity was associated with the warmer days.

Sometimes in these dark winter days a bit of blazing purple prose is a fine thing.  Herewith some words from William Leon Dawson in his muti-volume classic on the birds of California (1923): “Sure enough, there came the guardian angel (?) …or was it the blue-coated gendarme noisily brandishing a flaming sword? ‘Jayick! Jayick!”‘ It is he!  It is he!  The sweet, authentic devil, the California jay! He, the malaprop, the impertinent, the sly wag, thief, scoundrel, outcast, jackal of the bush, bon homme libre,  as innocent as morning, as industrious as noon, as wicked as night.”

In a hurry, as is so oft the case:j-moves

Give us this day our daily Red-tail:

Joe Dancer Park, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 21, 2017 1:30 PM – 2:15 PM.  12 species

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  1
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  2
Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)  1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  4
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  4
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  X
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  40
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)  2
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  15
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  1

Posted by: atowhee | February 20, 2017


Here are three images of locally common birds, darkened so colors are not clearly evident.  Look at the shapes.  I often tell my birding classes that birds on wire or in treetops are often identifiable by shape alone.  Despite back-lighting, no lighting, sun glare or distant…some shapes tell you the bird’s identity. In this part of Oregon we have about ten medium-sized species that all like to sit in the open…each has its own shape.  Here are three:shape-3shape1shape2

Top shape: Round head, body with serious rotundity, abrupt ending of torso then a long, narrow tail without tapering or fanning out.  Blunt tail end.  Beak sharp, so not a seed eater.  The outstanding feature of this profile: those wing tips parallel to the body, not tucked against the sides.  Perhaps the chubby body pushes out the wings and the feathers can’t bend back inward at their tips.  I don’t know of any other medium-sized bird around here who so often perches high in the open with wing tips visible.

Middle shape: long, sharp beak, body that tapers downward and a tail that is not long but ends in two parallel spikes.  Flicker.  You don’t need to see the black collar or white rump patch for this one.  Plus we have few woodpeckers hereabouts that sit in open…Acorns and an occasional Pileated.

Bottom shape: Beak with strong convex upper mandible. Long with sharp end, the beak of an omnivore. Slender body of a well-honed athlete.  Long tail that ends in rounded shape.  Wings tight against the sides until the very tip.  Scrub-Jay.

Bonus picture:2kestrlThese two Kestrels, BTW, were sitting on those same branches again today, three days after I took this picture.  I gotta believe this pair is preparing to nest nearby this spring, Joe Dancer Park.  I hope McMinnville Parks don’t use lots of pesticides on all that playing field lawn grass.

Notice how their falcon wings reach almost to the tip of the long tail!  The round head sits almost on the birds’ shoulders, neckless (not necklace).  They often tilt the their tail up and down while perched.  They are slightly more heavyset than the jay, not tapered sharply like the flicker, make the robin look pudgier than he really is.  This is a sleekly muscled bird built for bursts of speed.  If you get a look at a Merlin, double everything I’ve said for the kestrels.

Starting at the end of March I will teach a spring birding class for the McMinnville Park & Rec Department. Click here for info.  If you have the city’s spring class catalog my class is listed on page 27. 

Posted by: atowhee | February 20, 2017



gcki-in-treeegcki-tree2This kinglet was in the willows at South Side Park overlooking the melliferous sewer ponds.  Well, melliferous to us birders anyway.gcki-tree3gcki-tree4dcc-rowAbove: cormorants all in a row.  Below: gaggle of Cackling and Dusky Canada Geese on the lawn.gagglelookalikeScaup and friends.soukth-pondSOUTH OF MCMINNVILLEmuch-watrGlaucous-winged Gull in a field.  There were some Herring Gulls in with the several GW Gulls.yng-gwg

LAST WEEKcac-with-ringCacklers at Yamhill Sewer Ponds last week.  One on left proudly showing off his white neck ring.cacsls-fmlLesser Scaup: female above, male below.  Eyes only Ruddy Ducks at Yamhill.rudu-twoJOE DANCER PARK:

Pair of Kestrel, female above, male below.2kestrlFlicker flight:flikflitMale hummer, sitting on same twig in same tree facing same direction, two days in a row:hum-treeamro-upritRed-breasted Sapsucker.  blue-eyesWhat is this bird? The camera angle makes the bird look like its got falcon wings.  But then you see those white puffs beneath the base of the tail?  Those feathers are to keep the feet warm in winter and are often visible on large accipiters, Goshawk and this Cooper’s Hawk.  This is the one who sent 200 starlings into aerial panic at Joe Dancer Park.coha

Yamhill Sewage Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 17, 2017. 13 species

Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii)  109
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  50
Mallard (Northern) (Anas platyrhynchos platyrhynchos/conboschas)  27
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)  25
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  8
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)  3
Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata)  1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  3
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  2
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  30
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  2820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 17, 2017. 13 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  50     fly over
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)  X
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  2
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  2
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)  20
Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)  1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  25
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  1
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)  1
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  8
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  X

Joe Dancer Park, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 17, 2017. 6 species

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  1
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  4
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)  2     mated pair perched together
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  35
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X

Delashmutt Lane SW, Yamhill County, Yamhill, Oregon, US–seen in flooded road picture above
Feb 20, 2017 9 species

American Wigeon (Anas americana)  X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  X
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)  X
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)  X
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  1
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)  X
Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens)  X
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)  2
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X

Sheridan South Side Park and Fishing Pond, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 20, 2017. 21 species

Cackling Goose (minima) (Branta hutchinsii minima)  60
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  150
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  10
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)  35
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  1
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  1
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)  2
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  1
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  1
American Coot (Fulica americana)  30
Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens)  1
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  2
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  X
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)  1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  8
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  2
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)  20
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  1

Sheridan WTP Ponds (restricted access), Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 20, 2017. 10 species

Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii)  X
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  X
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  X
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)  X
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)  X
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  X
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  1
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)  X
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)  8
American Coot (Fulica americana)  X

Posted by: atowhee | February 19, 2017


As the current regime pushes its anti-science agenda there is growing pressure on NASA to stop looking at climate change. Look to the stars.

I would presume eventually the current management in DC will begin firing those who continue to think and write about climate change.  Will they also cut all federal funding to universities that do climate research?  De-fund the National Science Foundation?  Right now it may be safer in some corners of our capital to praise Putin than to want to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Right now the climate change web pages on both the NASA and National Park Service websites still exist. And they are in English, not Russian.

Posted by: atowhee | February 19, 2017


Feb. 19-2017, Sunday

This morning Nora and I got in a walk under sunny skies, wind from the west.  It rained all night and the wind is bringing in the next rain storm.  At 13th and Michelbook the oaks had a trio of Robins, White-breasted Nuthatch, Anna’s Hummingbird and Acorn Woodpecker.  In one garden below the trees there were Juncos and a vocal Spotted Towhee.  One of the male Juncos sang, first time I’ve heard Junco song this year.  Yesterday there was a singing Flicker at Joe Dancer and one male actually gave the bubbling hiccup call that you only hear in courtship situations. Two male Robins were sparring.  Also at Dancer a male Anna’s Hummer was in the same spot on the same limb in the same tree for a second straight day.  That is apparently going to be his stronghold as he awaits the return of migrant females.

Yesterday at Dancer all the starlings lifted up from the grass and whirled around in a confused and confusing flock.  Then I saw coming at me, only fifty feet above the ground, the cause: a Cooper’s Hawk heading to the trees along the river.

For the first time today a Myrtle Warbler came into our garden.  This is NOT War-war who is a brightly colored male Audubon’s.   This warbler is very pale and its only visible yellow was the rump patch while War-war flashes his yellow crown, has a bold golden throat and yellow side-lines below each wing. We have two Varied Thrush, one male and one female but they never appear together.


Many species of wildlife have adapted to accommodations and habitats that are artificial.  I’ve seen mammals and birds in the midst of people and their machines around the world. When I was a kid Barn Swallows nested just overhead in the barn where I milked the cows. A small sloth lives in a tiny clump of trees at the edge of the bay in Panama City.  Lesser Kestrels hawk insects as they swarm around the rooftops on summer nights in Trujillo, Spain.  A gang of agouti shuffle through the leaves in a hotel garden in Coca, Ecuador. In that same garden a huge macaw came to our breakfast table, flew on board and proceeded to take all the butter in one greasy gulp. In England Jackdaws prefer human monuments for nesting—from Stonehenge to Tudor castles.  Brewer’s Blackbirds clean abandoned plates outside the student union cafeteria on the Stanford University campus. At dawn a fox hunts the alleys between Blackfriars train station and St. Paul’s in London. One fox stole my boots from behind our house in New Cross Gate, London.  Christmastime will find Black Redstarts catching insects on the spires of the Gothic cathedral in Chartres, France. The same species patrols the ruins of the Roman Forum. White Storks and Red Kites plunder the city dump on the eastern edge of Rabat, Morocco.  Nearby those storks nest on the ruins of the old Roman capital, Volubilis.  Three species of swifts nest under the old Roman Bridge in Merida, Spain. Rose-ringed parakeets scream overhead near Amsterdam’s Vondelpark.  In Frankfurt Egyptian Geese now graze on park lawns. A Dalmatian Pelican took up residence at one town’s fishing dock on the island of Lesvos.  In daytime foot-long fruit bats hang from the ceiling of our hotel near Lake Victoria in Uganda. In Ashland, Oregon, Dippers regularly nest under the bridge in the center of town. An Asian Cuckoo lives in a tiny courtyard of a high-rise hotel in central Tokyo. Pukeko wade through roadside pools in New Zealand, impervious to speeding traffic. Yellow Wagtails run up and down the park paths in Rome’s Aventino.  Yellow Warblers patrol the docks and sidewalks of towns in the Galapagos.  Common Kestrels nest in the stonework around the gigantic rose window on Notre Dame’s river side. House Sparrows have the timing down so they come and go through the doors of the Deux Magots café in Paris’ Saint Germain quarter.  Hand-raised green sea turtles will swim up and touch you as you swim offshore of Hawaii Island’s west side resorts. California sea lions prefer fishing docks at Pier 39 to hard rocks in San Francisco Bay. Peregrines all over the world love high-rises and tall bridge towers for nesting.  In San Francisco Killdeer nest on flat roofs while Western Gulls patrol playgrounds for discarded goodies.

In tropical lands small primates are often the most successful interlopers in the world of man.  But in San Francisco I believe it to be the corvids: raven, crow, two jay species. They are smart, social, communicative omnivores.  Sound familiar?

By 1900 the corvid family was on most Americans’ kill list.  They supposedly ruined crops and killed lots of baby birds.  So they were summarily executed.  There was no “corvid lives matter” movement until they almost disappeared.  It wasn’t until the 1970s that jays, crows and ravens actually began to survive and reproduce in San Francisco.  Now they thrive and are not shot on sight.  Sound like a good idea for some other social omnivores?

Posted by: atowhee | February 17, 2017


Nora the Dog and I walked at Yamhill city sewer ponds today.  Only one snipe where there were three dozen on Sunday.  More water in the fields, Mallards on temporary pond there.  Other birds included one BC Chicakdee, two Flickers, three Ruddy Ducks.  Numerous were Cacklers, Canada Geese, Mallards, Lesser Scaup.

A mature ash tree had fallen over and blocked the path.  The tree was on the west side of the creek and fell away from the creek.  Presumably it had leaned too far that way because it had no roots to support it on the east side.  The ash already had its pendulous buds for spring.  Just a few feet away stood an equally old oak.  That tree is gnarled and even today was still dropping a few of its dried leaves from last summer. That ash and that oak have grown side-by-side for decades, wet years and dry, cold winters, sunny summers, as the ball fields nearby were first laid out, then busy, then abandoned.  What must that oak be feeling at the death of the neighboring ash?
I got home later to see in the Feb 16 “LRB” a review of the boom THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES: WHAT THEY FEEL, HOW THEY COMMUNICATE.   By Peter Wohlleben.ash-1ash-twoThe seeds that will never mature.ash-seeds3

In his book Wohlleben describes an ancient moss-covered beech stump.  That beech tree had been cut centuries before.  Poking around with his knife he finds the stump is still green beneath the bark, alive.  Checking previous research and the locale he comes to realize the other nearby beech trees are supplying the stump and its root system with sugar and moisture.  Who needs leaves if you’ve got friends with leaves?

The “LRB” review of this book is by Francis Gooding.  In one paragraph he writes, “The kind of consciousness that Wohlleben proposes is so different from ours as to be utterly alien: it is a diffuse, blind intelligence located in the sensitive, questing filaments of thousands of root-tips, or a networked language of chemical messages, fanning out through the forest floor via a ‘wood wide web’ of fungal mycelium.  It is a sensory alertness in every leaf.”  You can click here to read the full review which includes Frans de Waals’ book on animal smarts as well.

In German “wohl” means well, possibly or actually depending on the dialect.  “Leben” means to live.  To live well perhaps we need to better understand our fellow creatures, both mobile and rooted. Would not be holding my breath for the new federal regime to declare “love your tree day.”

Posted by: atowhee | February 15, 2017


“Throughout North America the junco, a slate-colored sparrow-sized  with a flashy white-sided tail, rules the urban jungle.”    —Welcome to Subirdia by John Marzluff

Not just sparrow-sized, the junco is a proud member of the American sparrow family. This family, Emberizidae, includes towhees, longspurs, Neotropical grassquits, Old World seedeaters and some Old World buntings. In Latin junco means Reed Bunting, an Old World bird with a sparrow’s beak and a black head.  Hyemalis refers to winter when this little bird flocks into towns and cities across North America.

In Ashland we sometimes have five dozen in our garden, here in more urbanized McMinnville we still over two dozen in winter.jnc-3Whenever I seer this hardy, doughty, successful little bird I remind myself that they breed on the ground…but do it so well they even breed in city parks.  Only once have I actually seen a Junco nest.  It was in a tuft of grass just outside a patch of forest at 4500′ elevation near Howard Prairie Lake in Jackson County, Oregon.  In years birding in San Francisco I never found a single nest in Golden Gate Park where the bird is a common breeder.

Fellow birder Pamela Johnston shares this haiku:
“In pouring rain
a Junco sings”

Posted by: atowhee | February 14, 2017


We have four suet feeders in our garden this winter.  And we have several birds that are suet afficionados.  In fact, we have feeder feeders that are nothing short of excellent experts.  There are the starlings, the Downy, the female flicker–long, pointed beaks, strong feet, dangling and hanging upside down–no problem.

Yet, even among the smaller birds two have become adept at feeding any manner necessary to get at that suet.  They are the Bewick’s Wren and one Yellow-rumped WARbler whom I’ve named War-war for his warlike

Pretty quiet at Wennerberg Park today though I did see an Anna’s Hummer sitting on a wire which is unusual.  They are most often on trees, bushes, and other natural perches.anh-upanh-wiredgoose-line820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, Yamhill, Oregon, US
12 species

Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)  X
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  1
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  X
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  X
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)  X
Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)  1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)  1
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  25
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  1
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  8

Wennerberg Park, Carlton, OR, Yamhill, Oregon, US
Feb 14, 2017.  6 species

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  16     fly over
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  2
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  30
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  2

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